The migration of academic twitter

I've been an early adopter of many online technologies over the past 20+ years. So I was on twitter early (and facebook and all the others). I usually had been the first faculty member at my institution to try a particular tool, whether consumer or for teaching, which then, a few years later, people would start to pay attention to. I don't claim any great prescience; I just find new tools interesting for thinking with. Due to that pattern of early adopting, I also tend to be an early abandoner. So I left twitter (and facebook and so many others) a long time ago. As a disciple nowadays of the school of thought that sees social media as a fairly pernicious influence on human sanity, I mostly stay off the social media. But I've enjoyed quiet corners of mastodon at various times, and quiet corners of the internet in general. I like the serendipity of it. You might get great content at one time of day or maybe not. It's a bit like window shopping or browsing the library stacks.

So now the pace on mastodon seems to have picked up and this past week has seen a marked uptick in academic twitterati and influencer types jumping ship to mastodon. With that has come the inevitable snap judgements of the platform, some of it good and generous, and then other bits of newcomers walking in and immediately wanting to rearrange the furniture.

I don't particularly care about any of that, though it does amuse me to see so many (loudly online) academics acting like these twitter alternatives are some great discovery. Now, if they all moved back to gopher or gemini, maybe that would be a bit more of an obscure-ish discovery relative to the academic familiar. I suspect many are thinking and wondering why in the world academics weren't mostly on mastodon the whole time. After all, you can create a server for your own interest, federate with who you chose to hear from (and keep out people from servers you don't want to hear from), and generally create a bunch of mini disciplinary worlds. Seems like a good way to do the basic thing that twitter did for many academics: give you a tool where you can keep up with what was going on in the field.

Interesting to see how this will go and whether it will stick. I suspect for academics that mastodon will prove quite a good fit, now that many have been prompted to move over en masse, which was, after all, what was holding any individual back. Academics are, after all, herd creatures. Anyone who has sat in a faculty meeting or in tenure review or on an academic committee of any sort can tell you that. The only thing that matters is what other people think.

Which is, I suppose, why I started writing this. All that academic flocking reminded me why I left.